PNP CHIEF Gen. Archie Gamboa and seven other police officials, including three more generals, were injured when their helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff in San Pedro City in Laguna yesterday morning.
Maj. Gen. Mariel Magaway, PNP director for intelligence, and Maj. Gen. Jose Maria Ramos, PNP director for comptrollership, were in critical condition while the rest were in stable condition.
Also injured were Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac, PNP spokesman; Gamboa’s aide, Capt. Kevin Gayramara; Lt. Gen. Roel Zalatar, pilot; Lt. Col. Rico Macawili, co-pilot; and helicopter crew Senior M/Sgt Luis Estona.
Officials said the Bell 426 helicopter hit a high-tension wire shortly after takeoff at a vacant lot in Barangay San Antonio at around 8:10 a.m. They said there was poor visibility caused by a dust cloud.
The aircraft is one of three Bell 429 helicopters acquired by the PNP in 2018 for P435 million from the Texas-based Bell Textron Inc.
Gamboa was head of the PNP bids and awards committee that was involved in the acquisition process. The PNP signed the contract with the US firm in 2017.
Gamboa, prior to the crash, inspected a number of recovered carnapped vehicles at an impounding area in San Pedro town, according to PNP deputy chief for operations Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said.
Eleazar said Gamboa was on the way to the Calabarzon regional police office headquarters in Camp Vicente Lim in Calamba City for a command visit when the mishap occurred.
“Upon take off, there was poor visibility due to debris … Initial information from our troops on the ground showed that (poor visibility) caused miscalculation by the pilots and hit the wire,” said Eleazar.
“It means that they were not yet flying at a high altitude, they were not yet on cruising altitude,” Eleazar said.
Responding policemen pulled out Gamboa and the others and brought them to nearby hospitals.
Gamboa was taken to the Westlake Medical City in San Pedro town and later transferred to the St. Luke’s Medical Center at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City. The seven others were initially taken to the Unihealth-Southwoods Hospital and Medical Center in Biñan City.
Ramos was transferred to the Asian Hospital and Medical Center in Muntinlupa City while Banac was also transferred to the Saint Luke’s Hospital, joining Gamboa.
Maj. Gen. Benigno Durana, PNP director for police community relations chief, said Magaway and Ramos are in “critical condition but they are properly being attended to by our medical personnel and the rest are stable.”
“Within the next 48 hours, we are appealing for the public’s prayers for the recovery of Generals Ramos and Magaway. Their condition is still unstable and the next 48 hours would be critical,” he said.
Lt. Col. Chitadel Gaoiran, Calabarzon police spokeswoman, said policemen poured water in the area but it had not been enough to prevent a dust cloud. She said a dust cloud formed also earlier when the helicopter landed in the area.
“Based on our information, there was zero visibility while it was taking off. It was not able to completely ascend. It (helicopter) hit an electric wire and crashed on a cemented road outside the compound,” said Gaoiran.
Lt. Gen. Camilo Cascolan, PNP deputy chief for administration, said he was able to talk to Gamboa after the incident.
“He is in in a good condition,” said Cascolan, adding Gamboa was brought to Saint Luke’s Hospital for further check-up.”
“According to the report of the (police regional office) Region IV, it hit a live wire while taking off. During that time, there was poor visibility,” he also said.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said: “The chief PNP is conscious. I think they (Gamboa and the seven others onboard) are in okay condition and we hope they will make a full recovery.”
“He (Gamboa) is out of danger and he is conscious. Based on the pictures sent to me, he is okay. General Banac is also okay. He was even smiling based on the pictures that was sent to me. Generals Magaway and Ramos, they sustained multiple wounds and need further attention,” he said.
Año said technical experts will look into the incident.
“Based on the information that reached me, it (helicopter) hit a high- tension wire. There was poor visibility due to loose earth flying upon takeoff. That (poor visibility) caused it to hit the high-tension wire. We’ll know the details after the investigation,” he said.
Año said he rode the same helicopter about a month ago.
He said the twin-engine aircraft are quality helicopters and piloted by “well-trained” pilots who have earned a high number of flying hours.
“We’re going to look into the protocols before takeoff. We’re going to look into all angles that led to this incident, even pilot error or mechanism failure, whatever. We’re going to look into all these,” said Año.
Durana said Ramos’ deputy, Brig. Gen. Ronald Olay, has been designated acting director for comptrollership while Brig. Gen. Jess Cambay, Magaway’s deputy, will be the acting director for intelligence, pending the recovery of the two officers.
“In the case of General Banac, I will take his post while he is recovering,” Durana also said.
Durana said all PNP helicopters are grounded pending probe on the incident. The PNP has seven helicopters, including the ill-fated Bell 429.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said the Malacañang is praying for the quick recovery of the eight officers. – With Jocelyn Montemayor